What is Vermouth?

Although Vermouth is often drunk on its own as an Apéritif, it’s best known as a core ingredient in Martinis and the classic Manhattan Cocktail. Sweet Vermouth was initially used as a cocktail ingredient to lower the overall alcohol content of a cocktail with a strong spirit as their base, but Vermouth also adds a mellow herbal flavour and aroma to your drink.

Vermouth is actually a type of fortified wine flavoured with various botanicals. The number of different vermouths and botanical blends used to make them is vast these days, and the best bartenders are brilliantly selecting the perfect brand of vermouth to complement the spirits in the cocktails they create.

As far back as the 1800s, sweet Italian red vermouth was a popular cocktail addition, and around the beginning of the 1900s the drier French vermouth began its rise to fame. That’s when the term “dry martini” was introduced. Today that term “dry martini” also could mean that there’s simply less vermouth added to the cocktail, as well as possibly referring to the vermouth used. Some older cocktail recipe books simply refer to “Italian vermouth” or “French vermouth” as an ingredient, and we can substitute these for any preferred brand of sweet and dry vermouth respectively.

Some of the most widely recognised Vermouth brands are Martini & Rossi, Cinzano and Noilly Prat. Those of you old enough to remember Leonard Rossiter from the TV show “Rising Damp” will love this trip down memory lane, of the 1979 Cinzano advert with Joan Collins.

My personal favourite for a martini is Noilly Prat, and I’ve recently been introduced to the Belsazar range from Germany which is cropping up in bars all over London. Belsazar red makes for a very sweet and rich Negroni, and Belsazar White or Dry with soda and a twist of orange is a fantastic pre-dinner drink.

How to Store Vermouth

Don’t be one of those home-bartenders who have a dusty old bottle of Vermouth sitting at the back of your shelf that’s one step away from turning to vinegar. If you’re not making a lot of cocktails using vermouth, try buying half-bottles instead.

The best way to store vermouth is in the fridge. I personally, and much to annoyance of my flatmates, have a whole fridge shelf dedicated to vermouth (10 bottles strong, so far!). Keeping it cold dramatically increases the length of time the vermouth will keep its intended flavour, but as soon as a bottle is opened it will begin to oxidise. The best advice I’ve heard from a number of industry experts, is that vermouth takes over a year to actually “go bad”, and after 3-6 months of being open, it will simply begin to taste like a “lesser quality” vermouth, rather than going sour or undrinkable.

If you’re worried about the length of time your Vermouth is sitting on your shelf, (and you’re not up to throwing a martini party), you can cook with it instead of drinking it. For any receipe calling for Red or White wine, substitute Vermouth for a distinctive flavour that pairs well with meat and fish. Better yet, cook with it and make cocktails too. Now that’s a pairing!

Vermouth Cocktails

If Vermouth is part of your cocktail cabinet, here are a couple of cocktails to provide you with some inspiration:

Vermouth Cocktail:

  • 2 oz vermouth (any)
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • Stir with ice and strain into a small stem glass and garnish with a citrus twist.

You can serve this over ice, but to avoid dilution it’s best to refrigerate your vermouth and serve it in a pre-chilled glass.

Rob Roy

  • 2 oz Scotch whiskey
  • 1 oz red vermouth
  • 2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist or maraschino cherry.

Rob Roy Cocktail

Find out plenty more about vermouth on Vermouth101.com

To try some great vermouths in great cocktails, check out our Gin Martini/Martinez kit, or The Manhattan kit

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